01 April 2018

Homily for the Resurrection of Our Lord - 2018

"He Is Risen! The Wound of Death Is Vanquished!"
John 20:1-18

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Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It does not matter how many times you encounter it, it never feels natural; it never feels right. Death always feels wrong. Something inside does not accept that we will not hear that voice, see that face, touch that hand, experience that laughter ever again. The grief counselors can talk till they are blue in the face about how death is simply a part of life; how we must accept it as inevitable and “natural.” But death is never natural. We never accept it. We never will.

Mary did not accept death. Oh, she had no doubt that her Lord, her Teacher, was dead. She had witnessed the horror of it. Standing beside His mother, she had seen the light die in His eyes as He hung gruesomely upon the cross. She had seen them take His limp body from the wood, heard the horrid sound as they pulled nails. He was dead. She had no doubt of that.

But it was not right. She knew it was not right. And she simply had to touch Him again. She just knew that she had to see that body again. But the body was gone. She had run to tell Peter and John. They checked it out and told her she was right: yep, the body was gone. Big help they were! Then they left her, but she remained. She did not know what to do, where to go, to whom to turn. So she just stood there and started to cry.

Not the easy, gentle tears of the merely sad. No, Mary wept the gut-wrenching, full-voiced sobs of the grieving. Death. It wounds not only those it takes from us; it also wounds those who are left. And sometimes it wounds us so badly we think it will kill us right then and there. Mary knew something of that as she sobbed and looked into the tomb.

But something was different now. The tomb was not empty after all. There were angels there, clothed in white. One was sitting where the Lord’s head had been, one where His feet had been. Even though Mary’s sorrow could never shake or destroy their joy, they are concerned for her. “Woman,” they ask, “why are you weeping?”

Jesus’ death was such a given that she did not say, “Because my Lord is dead.” Instead, her answer was, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Not knowing where the body was, was tearing her up. Death was horrible enough, but not being able to find the body? Not being able to tend it and give it proper care for burial? She had to know where Jesus was, to see Him once more, to touch His body once more. How else could she face tomorrow? How else could she face the rest of her life?

The magnitude of Mary’s grief shows itself when a conversation with angels does not even faze her. So she straightens up and turns and almost runs into the One who had never been far from her, the One who stood right beside her in her grief—even though she did not realize it. He gently asks, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

Hope rises in Mary’s heart. Is it the gardener? Perhaps he is the one who moved her Master’s body. “Sir,” she cries, “if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

Was it her tears that blinded Mary’s eyes that morning? Was it the grief of her heart that made all the world seem to move in slow motion—unreal and phantom-like? Then it all changed when He said one word. He called her name: “Mary.”

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27), Jesus had said. Although she had not recognized Him before, at the sound of her name, Mary’s heart pounded, she caught her breath, and she moved the hair from her face and stared in awe, in terror, and in joy rising like a flood.

“Rabboni!” she cried. “My teacher!” And she lunged for Jesus and held His feet. Beyond hope, beyond her wildest dreams, there He stood. Not a ghost. Not a spirit. Not an illusion or merely some wishful thinking. Her Jesus—flesh and blood, the wounds still visible, but transfigured, shining in glory. Her Jesus!

And the tears came again, but this time a different kind of tears. These were not the sobs of despair; these were the tears that flow from a cup that runs over with joy. It was a tender moment, but the joys were only beginning. Jesus had work for Mary to do, a mission for her to carry out. He sent her first to His apostles to give them the message that He lives and that He is preparing to ascend to His Father and their Father, to His God and their God. Death was not the end of Him, and so it will not be the end of Mary or of the disciples.

Nor will death be the end of you. Nor will it be the end of those you love who have died in the faith. Jesus has changed forever how we live, how we grieve, and how we die. Oh, we still feel in our bones how wrong death is, how unnatural it is, and we hate it with a passion. But Jesus has transformed it into something we never have to fear—never again. By His death and resurrection, Jesus has wounded death itself. He has dealt it a mortal blow from which it will never recover. He came out of its stinking gullet alive again, never to die again. And His promise to Mary, to His apostles, and to all of His baptized children is that He will bring each and every one of us through the hole that He punched in death’s gullet. He will bring us into the home that He has prepared for us with His Father.

And so, to strengthen your faith in His resurrection victory, Jesus continues to put into your dying bodies His Body that was on the tree, atoning for all your sin; His Body that was in the tomb, sanctifying your grave; and His Body that Mary held in the garden that first Easter Day. He pours down your throat the very Blood that He shed to wipe out the sin of the world; the very Blood that is and gives eternal life even now. And He reminds you that it is all for you. And He whispers to each of you, “Just as death could not hold Me, so it will not hold you, My child. You have been baptized into My undying life. I will bring you out of death just as I came out of it—alive, never to die again. And then the celebration will really begin!”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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